The E.coli strain that has spread across the EU was "previously unknown" according to the WHO

The E.coli strain that has spread across the EU was "previously unknown" according to the WHO

The World Health Organisation has reportedly claimed that the E. coli bacteria that has left 16 people dead and thousands ill in Europe is a new strain that has not been seen before.

Preliminary genetic sequencing suggests the strain is a mutant form of two different E. coli bacteria, with lethal genes that could explain why the outbreak appears so massive and dangerous, an agency spokesperson told AP.

WHO food safety expert Hilde Kruse said that "this is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before".

Kruse added that the new strain has "various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing".

The WHO said yesterday that some 16 people have died, while there have been 1,614 people that have been reported ill.

The E. coli outbreak emerged late last week in Hamburg and was suspected to have originated from contaminated cucumbers from Spain. Subsequent tests ruled out the Spanish cucumbers, after it was found that the products were not carrying the STEC serotype O104, which has been identified as the cause of the outbreak.

The Spanish government and trade groups have called for the resignation of Hamburg's health minister Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks, for "acting irresponsibly" and for "ignoring all protocols of action in food crisis situations" .

They are also seeking compensation for the EUR200m a week in lost sales caused by blocks placed on Spanish produce.